What's the Greatest Video Game: Tharsis

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

Edited By imunbeatable80

This is an ongoing list where I attempt to do the following: Play, Complete, and Rank every video game in the known universe in order to finally answer the age old question "What is the greatest game of all time?" For previous entries find the links on the attached spreadsheet.

How did I do?

CategoryCompletion level
Beat the gameYes
DifficultyNormal & Easy
Missions Completed7 out of 10
Restarts requiredWay too many to count
No Caption Provided

Now I was supposed to do a write up of "River City Girls," but having beat Tharsis on Normal last night for the first time, I wanted to talk about that game instead, because I just felt the review was ready to pop out of my head. My next entry will be River City Girls, for those that are following along.

Do you like board games? Do you like the type of board games where its you/your team versus the game? Do you like the type of board games where the whole point is to survive creeping dread that makes the game more overwhelming turn after turn until you either win or lose horribly? Well, I do. I love board games, probably as much as I love video games, and I always have. In my social group, I am the person other people look to when it comes down to organizing game nights. I am the psycho who has a closet full of games people (general populace) have not heard of.

Where am I going with this? Well Tharsis should be a board game and not a video game. It fits alongside games like Dead of Winter, The Captain is Dead, and to a lesser extent Pandemic. All these games have roughly the same thing in common, you are fighting against a system that is throwing more obstacles than you can solve at you, and you have to decide what takes precedent first.

No Caption Provided

I am getting ahead of myself. Tharsis is a survival game where a crew of 4 astronauts are on a ship headed to Mars to respond to a signal that is communicating with them. Obviously things don't go as planned, and your ship becomes damaged. You are 10 weeks away (turns) from being able to land on Mars, but you have to first survive and fix the damaged ship in order to make it there. Each turn the game randomizes incidents that take place on the ship, and if the incidents are left untreated, will have an adverse effect. For instance there might be a CO2 leak, which if left untreated will do -1 damage to all the remaining crew members at the end of the turn, or there might be a fire that will do damage to the ship's hull at the end of the turn. If all of your ship's hull is depleted or all of your crew is killed before you can get to Mars, then its game over. In order to combat those incidents you have to move crew around the ship and deal with the incidents.

Each incident has... lets say a fixing cost, which is a numerical value that you need to bring down to zero in order to fix and not suffer the adverse effect. You bring this number down to zero by rolling actual dice in the room. Roll well and you can bring down the number faster and perhaps take care of it in one turn, but rolling poorly obviously does the opposite. You can bring more than one person in the room in order to fix a defect, and throw more dice at it, but depending on the amount of open instances on your ship could mean that other items go unchecked.

No Caption Provided

In addition to these instances, there are things like food, health, dice totals, stress, etc. that aren't technically instances that also need to be addressed on your turn. For instance every time you go in a room and roll dice, your next turn you will roll one less, unless you eat food (replaces 3 dice), go to a special room, or have a special character that can use one of their rolled dice and give everyone in that room an additional dice to roll next turn. Now I certainly didn't plan for that previous sentence to talk about dice so much, but here we are. Needless to say, you are constantly managing resources in order to survive. If a characters health is low, they are at risk of dying from any number of issues, and a dead crew member means you have one less turn a week, which is a huge deal. Having a living crew member who can only roll one die a turn, is as good as useless because they won't really be able to fix anything on their own. There are a lot of rules and nuance that are hard to explain without seeing the game itself or playing it, but there is always just enough going on that you are never in a good place.

Should you survive a week, you then get to decide between options your crew puts in front of you that presumably help with their well being. These are fairly basic choices, but you may be approached with a situation where you can pick between "everyone gains one health, but the hull takes one damage" or "You gain one hull but the crew takes one damage." You have to decide, as there is no 3rd option. You will never start a week where everything is in tip top shape.

Having a lot of moving pieces would lead you to believe that the game has a lot of strategy elements behind it. It is part of the reason I kept restarting time and time again, because I was convinced that I was just not figuring the strategy that I needed, but the conclusion I finally came to was that the strategy is only 10% of the battle and sadly the other 90% is just down to straight luck. This is a game based around a dice roll, literally and figuratively. In the whopping two times I beat it, was simply because the RNG gods smiled down on me. Perhaps I would roll 3 sixes on a single roll of 5 dice and be able to wipe out a tough instance with only one person, or the behind the scenes RNG would give me relatively easy instances for the week allowing me to spend time boosting food or health without having big ramifications. However, these are instances few and far between and you are more likely to come across the situation where there are 4 instances happening on the ship and each person has to clear theirs perfectly otherwise its game over. In those situations there is no strategy that will save you, and maybe you can blame what you did on a previous turn, but ultimately your game hinges on getting close to 4 perfect rolls in order to keep playing.

No Caption Provided

That is an incredibly defeating feeling, its a game that once you play it enough, you will know if you even have a chance at beating it 2 turns in. If I start a playthrough on Normal now, and I don't clear the current instances on the first turn, I might as well restart because taking that health loss or ship damage so early can doom me 9 turns in, and its easier to replay one turn then to try and replay 9.

The work around the edges are good, but aren't anything to write home about. While there is a story in the game played out every time you survive a week, it tips it's hand very early, and you know where it ends up before you get there. The game looks nice like a hi-res board game, but its really the same 5 screens you see every time so there isn't a lot to look at. There is some atmospheric sound/music that plays in the background, but you won't lose anything by turning it off or listening to a podcast/music/tv while playing. The best thing I can say about the game is that the runs are short enough that you can run through 3 attempts in an hour. If you are on a run to beat the game, it probably will only last 45minutes to an hour. It does make the game addictive in the way that you can try again quickly without feeling like you are in for another long haul. Emotionally though, you might not be interested.

The game is meant to be played over and over again, and you will in order to learn the system and try and beat it, but once I beat the game there is no drive for me to play it again. When I beat the game, it was to prove to myself that I could (by repeatedly beating my head against the wall), but I don't have any drive to unlock all the characters or try it again on hard. I felt like I was playing it out of spite, to prove to the game that it won't break me. Maybe that is the point of the game, maybe the developers wanted to design a game that players dislike just enough to try and beat it out of spite.

When I think about the game as a whole, I don't think about it positively. I don't mind failing, I don't mind difficult games, and I have no problem restarting again and again. Where the game lets me down is that the game relies so much on chance that the game can end even if you make all the right moves. Chance plays a role in nearly every game and board game that I enjoy. In X-com you can miss shots that you probably should make, but if you are smart about how you approach in X-com, one or two bad chance roles doesn't doom your entire playthrough of the game, but in Tharsis you can put all your characters in the right spots, you can take your time and plan every move out in triplicate, but if you need a 5 or 6 and roll a 3, that actually could mean that the game ends for you. For some people, that might be the ultimate rush, and it might have worked if this was an actual board game where you put the dice in your hands and let it fly. I can imagine enjoying this game with 3 other friends around a table, where each person takes their turn and rolls dice to see what happens. See who has the hot hand, and who needs a pickup, but when you are playing this on a screen by yourself there is no joy to defeating an instance, or wail of defeat on losing. Just you sitting in silence contemplating your $2 choices.

When I think about this series, I think the greatest game is not only a game that is well put together, but a game that I think a good majority of people can enjoy playing. That isn't to say that the Greatest game is a popularity contest, I am not going to put Wii Sports as the greatest game of all time, but Tharsis is a game I wouldn't be able to recommend for anyone to play. I can't think of a moment I played the game and enjoyed myself. I was playing against a puzzle that didn't want to be solved, and instead of the satisfaction of finally solving it or seeing the game through to the end, I was left only with relief knowing I wouldn't have to boot the game up again.

Is this the greatest game of all time?: Really? No of course not

Where does it rank: If the review didn't make it clear, I am fairly down on the game. Just explaining the game to my wife made her upset and she wasn't even playing it. The game can be addicting, because of its short runs, but I think most people will play this for a day and bounce off hard. I have this ranked as the 76th greatest game out of 80. it sits between 99 Vidas (77th) and Grand Guilds (75th). I would love to hear from the person that has sunk in hundreds of hours and loves Tharsis, how they know all the tricks and how easy the game really is, and how I was just playing it wrong, but alas I don't know if that person exists. *Edit: Yes those folks exist, I stumbled on their posts on reddit and apparently there is no RNG element in the game, and they can win every time, and I must have been playing the wrong game.*

*For those interested in seeing this game: Alex did a quick look for it on the PS4*

Up Next: River City Girls (Switch)

Anyone looking for it: here is the link to the list and more if you are interested in following along with me (this is not a self promotion). Here. I added links on the spreadsheet for quick navigation. Now if you missed a blog of a game you want to read about, you can get to it quickly, rather than having to scroll through my previous blogs wondering when it came up.

Thanks for Listening.

Avatar image for daavpuke
Daavpuke

412

Forum Posts

7924

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 33

User Lists: 6

I got into Tharsis when its initial praise started and I hated how much it was just a matter of luck. I normally love games that are just rolling dice as well, but this one always felt resentful.

Avatar image for bladeofcreation
BladeOfCreation

2166

Forum Posts

27

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 3

Great write up on this game! This was free on the Epic store a week or so ago and I downloaded it with the intent to get to it soon. The setting of the game is right up my alley; I'm getting Kim Stanley Robinson vibes from it, so I at least want to check it out.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@daavpuke: I remember watching Alex play it, and thought it looked right up my alley because I loved the look and it's very similar board game ties, but playing it was pretty brutal.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@bladeofcreation: you might like it, there are it's fans out there. If you also approach the game without the intent on beating it, you might enjoy the moment to moment more. My advice would definitely be to start on easy, the game is much more fair on that difficulty. I only moved up to normal after beating it on easy.

Avatar image for sparky_buzzsaw
sparky_buzzsaw

9597

Forum Posts

3772

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 39

User Lists: 38

Good writeup. This looks like something I will avoid because I'm very dense, so thank you for letting me live vicariously through your suffering.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@sparky_buzzsaw: anytime bud.. I got lured into playing it because it was cheap on switch and I remember being intrigued from Alex playing it so many years ago. I am confident you could figure it out, I just don't think the enjoyment is there to do so.

Avatar image for el_blarfo
El_Blarfo

123

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

#7 El_Blarfo  Online

I thought I was one of the only people who knew this game existed. Glad to know I'm also not the only person who was incredibly disappointed by it.

Basically, thanks for confirming I didn't dream this, I guess.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@el_blarfo: Haha, no problem.. it was on sale not to long ago on Switch, which is when I picked it up. If this game just dialed back its RNG reliance like 5-10% I would have liked it a lot more. It was just so demoralizing to play through 80-90% of the game and have it end because you needed to roll 3 sixes on one roll.

Avatar image for undeadpool
Undeadpool

7863

Forum Posts

10761

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 19

User Lists: 16

#9  Edited By Undeadpool
@daavpuke said:

I got into Tharsis when its initial praise started and I hated how much it was just a matter of luck. I normally love games that are just rolling dice as well, but this one always felt resentful.

I feel like this and Darkest Dungeon came out around the same time (if not in full-release, then at least around Early Access), but I could be entirely misremembering that, I just remember them having a similar: things are hard-but-possible, and the storyline is very, very grim.

Darkest Dungeon blossomed into one of my favorite games of all time, and this...well, you said it all above: you can read every strategy you want, you can read endless reams and variations of "it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools," but at the end of the day: there is NO PREP that can prepare you for 3 really bad rolls. Yes, there's a re-roll mechanic, but it should be "reroll with guaranteed higher value" if they're going to limit it as hard as they do, because the number of times I rolled 1-2 and then rerolled 1-2...

This goes alongside "One-Deck Dungeon," from the people who created one of my favorite games of all-time "Sentinels of the Multiverse" in terms of "I love everything about it except the core mechanic of rolling dice."

I'm giving Dicey Dungeons a try, and it seems to actually balance dice rolling with options, so I'm optimistic so far.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@undeadpool: yeah this game didn't scare me off of other dice games, because I think those can be balanced if they wanted to.

But yeah, I read strategies after I finished playing, and it was just people talking about the benefit of letting one error sit on the board, as that prevents a other from spawning in the same room.. and the other tactic being to almost permanently station someone in the room that can regain hull strength. The theory goes if you can replenish 2-3 hull a turn you don't need to worry about losing 1-2 a turn.

It's all hogwash and while those strategies might be better than nothing, it still all comes down to if you can roll a 5 or 6 when you actually need to.

Avatar image for onemanarmyy
Onemanarmyy

5946

Forum Posts

431

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 2

User Lists: 0

#11  Edited By Onemanarmyy

I played a bit of Tharsis yesterday and i mostly echo the thoughts here. And it's a shame because i do think that there's a neat resource juggling game here that could be improved upon and suddenly be a ton of fun. But this version is just too punishing and luck-based to feel good about your runs. I do think that a game like this needs to be pretty hard to force you to engage with the strategic layer of a game like this and feel like every turn is dangerous. But this game almost makes it feel like if you play optimally, it's not that you give yourself an advantage, it's just merely what you need to do to make a run viable.

I started out just focusing on keeping my dice amount up & dealing with the event costs. Then you learn that that's not good enough. So you decide to be better about using your character's abilities and putting your commander in situations where they can give a few teammates an extra dice. Eventually you start to think about how it's sometimes more worthwhile for a character to start on a room-bonus, instead of focusing solely on the event cost, so a second character can finish both the event cost & the room-bonus afterwards. These kind of strategic considerations are fun to tinker around with and make the game engaging.

But then you're at round 7 or 8 with plenty of dice and you stumble on an event that takes over 20 points to solve and has like 3 injury hazards associated with it. Now if you could dedicate two characters to this issue, it could be painful but manageable, but at this point in the game you pretty much have to have each character fend on it's own, or you end up with a double penalty of having this unresolved event hurt you now & in the more difficult next round as well. It also feels like the loss of a character is such a huge setback that you should just restart at that point. I almost feel like the game should generally try to avoid situations where you are expected to solve 4 new events with 4 characters because at that point the entire game of strategy is reduced to hoping that you hit the right numbers. All that food that you gathered is meaningless now. All those dice that you have carefully gathered, now have the ability to dissapear into thin air or hurt you. Maybe the game needed an extra character to play around with, or the ability to have more control over the research that you get access to so you can identify that most likely threat for your run and have a counterplay at the ready.

Avatar image for imunbeatable80
imunbeatable80

363

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

@onemanarmyy: thanks for the read.. yeah, in concept I like the game, but the execution did not work for me. Like you outlined there is a strategic layer that is fun to think about and engaging when things go your way, but all it takes is a bad obstacle (behind the scenes roll) where you need to clear a large number while navigating voids and injuries and the whole run ends.

There were so many times I felt great going into round 5, only to be at game over in round 8. I do think a 5th player makes it more manageable, but does it then become too easy, eh I dunno.. I just also wish the unlocks for beating it or playing a lot of runs were better. I never felt any character was overpowered, which in theory is great, but also means that you don't really need to unlock them either. That wiped away any desire to keep playing for me.

With all that said I would be curious about a tharsis 2, can't say I would but it.. but if I felt it was more "fair" and not the equivalent of flipping a coin at home, I'd check it out.

Avatar image for undeadpool
Undeadpool

7863

Forum Posts

10761

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 19

User Lists: 16

@onemanarmyy: That's a really great point too: the game already requires near-perfect tactics and play on "Normal," to even progress halfway, so the only variable left is the dice, which are entirely out of the player's control.

I think that's where the real frustration comes from, it's the exact opposite of "Into the Breach." Getting to the end on Normal requires close-to-perfect play, but small variables like where enemies emerge and what they target can either make a run easier or harder.

But in that case, the onus is FAR more on the player, therefore the losses aren't as frustrating and the wins are SO satisfying.

This edit will also create new pages on Giant Bomb for:

Beware, you are proposing to add brand new pages to the wiki along with your edits. Make sure this is what you intended. This will likely increase the time it takes for your changes to go live.

Comment and Save

Until you earn 1000 points all your submissions need to be vetted by other Giant Bomb users. This process takes no more than a few hours and we'll send you an email once approved.